On Becoming Legitimized as a Citizen

By js, 23 January, 2009, No Comment

I applied for a passport about 12 years ago. I was denied. I never pursued it since the opportunity to go overseas disappeared and I no longer needed it. I was convinced that the reason why I was not issued the passport was because I filled out the application incorrectly.  I have a middle name in my birth certificate and since I never used it in my documents, I decided to exclude it.

I’m reading Ralph Cintron’s *Angel’s Town* and am struck by what he argues about the control of official documentation. My attempt to apply for the passport using my name as I have chosen to represent myself is not something that is officially sanctioned. I did not use the middle name because when my birth certificate was officially submitted someone filled it out with my mother’s maiden name as my middle name. The Mexican custom is that children retain the mother’s name after the paternal last name. In the US, this custom is lost unless parents decide to hyphenate the last name. I’m not sure if the decision to give me my maternal last name as the middle name was my parent’s decision or someone else’s. I have to find more about that. I have always assumed that it was some ignorant US government worker who decided to put the name like that. In my view, the use of the name like that is just plain wrong. It preserves the mother’s name but not in a way that reflects the Mexican culture.

What I came to find out when I reapplied for the passport now that it is being required to go to Mexico (which is only about 6 miles from where I currently live) is that the name was NOT the problem. The problem was the birth certificate itself. Even though it is a government issued document, there were people who were consciously resisting the system by “selling” birth certificates. I have heard someone say that going to a midwife to deliver the child cost $50 while buying the midwife’s signature on a “fake” birth certificate cost $150.

Apparently there were several midwives who live near the border who were convicted in the 1970s of forging documents. This caused more strict regulation of midwife licenses but the veil of suspicion for anyone who was born with a midwife in a border town would still cause problems more than 50 years later.

I had to produce many more documents to receive my passport than anyone else. The fact that a midwife delivered me called into question the validity of the birth certificate. This is the case for many individuals who were born in South Texas. The fact that I excelled in school, that I went to one of the best colleges in the nation (with the government’s help), that I have been working as a teacher and giving back to my local community did not matter at all.  What legitimizes one as a “citizen” who participates in the improvement of society has nothing to do with how one is legitimized as a “citizen” by the state. If one has a forged document, it doesn’t matter what else you have done you will be deported. The only way to become a citizen would be by applying and giving the state the power to determine your “worth” as a potential citizen. If “they” deem you worthy, then you may succeed.

Of course I don’t know what happened when I submitted the documents the state department asked for. Did it matter where I lived, what my current job is? What were the criteria they used to determine that my birth certificate was in fact “legitimate”? There are individuals who have worked and retired from the Social Security Administration Office, from the military, from school districts who have also been denied a passport. Of course, the language of the letters of from the State Dept. do not say that we have been denied but that they need further documentation and if we cannot provide any then they will “close” our application. This puts the burden back on the citizen/applicant to prove their citizenship and the proof has to be in the form of documentation. The state department requests do not make it clear what these documents are supposed to prove. I assume they want documents which show that the mother was physically in the United States during the time of the birth. Isn’t the birth of child on US soil proof enough? Apparently not.

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